Summer is a season of many perks…beach vacations, picnics, holiday weekends, longer days, blooming gardens, swimming pools, lightning bugs and flip flops, just to name a few. But for males and females who struggle with their body image, this otherwise pleasant season can be overshadowed by anxiety and dread. Like clockwork, every spring we are bombarded by messages telling us to “Shape Up for Summer” or “Shed those Extra Winter Pounds”. As weather gets warmer and clothes get skimpier, even people who coasted through winter without worry, suddenly become more aware of their body weight and shape. And for those who struggle on a daily basis with negative body image or eating disorders, summer offers added challenges along the journey towards finding body confidence. Pressure to conform can be overwhelming when surrounded by friends or family on that illusive search for the “perfect” beach body – a fruitless and unrealistic ideal sold to us by advertisers, often with complete disregard for health. For some, just the thought of purchasing a bathing suit can trigger enough worry and self doubt to allow these harmful media messages to seep in. From crash diets to tanning beds, summer can quickly become a minefield of dangerous behaviors and deteriorating health.
So what can you do if summertime stress has you low on body confidence? Can you make it through the barrage of destructive messages this summer and still come out okay? Better yet, can you use it as an opportunity to gain confidence, positivity and strength? We say yes, you can! Here are some suggestions:
Talk back. Okay, maybe this goes against everything your parents ever told you but certainly they won’t mind a little attitude if directed at the media and not at them. Dispute harmful summer body myths with positive self-talk, and say it like you mean it…
“No one can tell me what I can and can’t wear; I will find and wear a swimsuit that fits and flatters my body JUST AS I AM instead of trying to change my body to fit into a pre-determined size or style.”
“I refuse to miss out on fun opportunities in my life because some magazine tells me I’m not skinny enough, tan enough or muscular enough to be seen in a bathing suit.”
Stop and smell the roses…literally and figuratively. Grow a garden, plant a tree, feel the grass between your toes, and breathe in the sweet summer air. Sit outside and read a good book feeling the warm sunshine upon your face. Look up in the night sky and gaze at the stars. Be mindful of the scenery and sounds around you this summer. Sail on a boat, take a nature walk, listen to the rain on the roof during a thunder storm. Enjoy all of your five senses with gratitude, and remember to give your body credit for allowing you to do all of these awesome things.
Accessorize. It can be fun to sport a great sun hat or trendy sunglasses that make you feel great and don’t have a size on their tag. And while those accessories are eye-catching, we’d argue that the best beach bodies are those adorned with confidence and a smile. If authentic confidence is hard for you right now, practice the “fake it until you make it” technique consistently, especially if you are going to be around young kids or adolescents who will be modeling your body image behaviors.
Teach others about a healthy lifestyle and show them the power of your positive energy. Refrain from reading articles focused on weight, and talk often about how good health has nothing to do with the number on a scale. Remind yourself and others that pressures from society regarding body size are unrealistic, unhealthy and dangerous. Spend extra time with supportive friends and loved ones who also understand, appreciate, and embrace a diverse definition of beauty.
Change it up! Wear a different color, try a new sport or connect with a new friend. Take a day trip somewhere you’ve never been or try a hobby you were always curious about. Relish in the extra hours of sunlight and remember that a changing of the seasons is not about how you look in a bathing suit, but rather how you live your life.
Be kind. Treat your body, and other people’s bodies, with respect and dignity.
We’ve said it before… and we’ll say it again: Dieting does not work. In fact, dieting damages your physical and mental well being. Chronic dieters are more likely to be depressed, have low self-esteem and most will end up at higher weights than they started. There’s a reason counting calories and adding up meal points were not included in our list of fun things about summer. Summer is bound to go by quickly… try spending your time and energy on activities that are actually enjoyable and beneficial. Dieting is neither of those things.
Let’s welcome summer and bid farewell to any lingering anxiety. We hope you can spend time appreciating where you and your body are in this moment.
What are you doing to make the best of your summer and to turn the bathing suit blues into body confidence? Share your strategy on our Facebook page!
Find out more about The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt at www.eatingdisorder.org.
Blog contributions by Amy Scott, LCPC